IT managers face ethical issues from piracy to privacy

In recent polls, many TechRepublic members reported that they've been asked to do something unethical in their jobs. Join our discussion on the everyday ethical dilemmas IT professionals face.

Among TechRepublic members participating in the Home Quick Poll shown in Figure A, 57 percent reported that they had been asked to do something unethical by a supervisor. Earlier this year, an IT Consultant Quick Poll found that 19 percent of consultants had been asked “many times” to do something illegal or unethical, and another 40 percent had been asked to do so on rare occasions.

Perhaps one of the most common unethical requests IT professionals face is to install, maintain, or at least overlook, unlicensed software. In a report released in June 2002, the Business Software Alliance (BSA) reported that 40 percent of software worldwide is pirated. In the United States, where the BSA has helped lead “sweeps” of illegal software, 26 percent is still pirated.

Figure A
Over half of the members participating in a recent Quick Poll felt that they had been asked to do something unethical.

IT professionals also face more ethical dilemmas as companies collect more information from customers. Businesses want to gather and use that data in as many ways as possible, but their customers probably want as much privacy as possible. One question that anyone from a Webmaster to a CIO may have to consider is: Should customers who register at an organization’s Web site have to “opt out” to ensure that their information isn’t sold to other companies?

Choices for managers
IT managers, in particular, are often caught in the middle of ethical controversies. Suppose that senior management wants your IT department to install software to monitor employees’ activities, but your staff members resent it as an invasion of their privacy and a sign of mistrust.

Managers also face ethical choices when communicating with department heads that aren’t technically savvy. After all, it may be easier to get sign-off on an IT project you personally favor if you don’t present all the alternatives to the business units.

Because managers are under pressure to control costs, they sometimes have to make “lesser-of-two-evils” choices with ethical implications. When you need to cut the budget, should the cuts come from upgraded development tools that staff members really need, or could you save some money—and keep your developers happy—by vaulting your backup tapes less frequently?

Join our discussion
What kinds of ethical choices have you made on the job? Does IT have any responsibility for how technology is used, or is it simply their job to give upper management what it wants? Join our discussion, or write to let us know how you handle the ethical responsibilities of being an IT manager.